Chinese pray for health in Lunar New Year as COVID death toll rises

BEIJING, Jan. 22 (Reuters) – China ushered in the Lunar New Year on Sunday as its people prayed for health after three years of stress and financial hardship due to the pandemic, as officials reported 13,000 new deaths from the virus between January 13 and 13,000 . 19.

Queues stretched about a kilometer outside Beijing’s iconic Lama Temple, which had been repeatedly closed before COVID-19 restrictions ended in early December, with thousands of people waiting their turn to pray for their loved ones.

A Beijing resident said she wished the Year of the Rabbit would bring “health to everyone”.

“I think this wave of the pandemic is over,” said the 57-year-old, who only gave her surname Fang. “I didn’t get the virus, but my husband and everyone in my family did. I still think it’s important to protect ourselves.”

Earlier, officials reported nearly 13,000 deaths from COVID in hospitals between Jan. 13 and Jan. 19, up from nearly 60,000 in the month or so before. Chinese health experts say the wave of infections across the country has already passed its peak.

The update on the death toll, from China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, comes amid concerns over Beijing’s data transparency and remains extremely low by global standards.

Hospitals and funeral homes were overwhelmed after China abandoned the world’s strictest regime of COVID controls and mass testing on Dec. 7 in an abrupt policy reversal that followed historic curbside protests.

The number of deaths reported by Chinese authorities excludes those who died at home, and some doctors have said they are discouraged from putting COVID on death certificates.

China reported nearly 60,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals between December 8 and January 12 on January 14, a huge increase from the more than 5,000 deaths previously reported throughout the pandemic period.

Spending by funeral homes on items from body bags to cremators has soared in many provinces, documents show, one of many indications of COVID’s deadly impact in China.

Some health experts expect more than a million people to die from the disease this year in China, and UK health data agency Airfinity predicts that the number of COVID deaths could reach 36,000 a day this week.

As millions of migrant workers return home for Lunar New Year celebrations, health experts are particularly concerned about those living in China’s vast rural areas, where health facilities are poor compared to those in affluent coastal areas.

It is estimated that between January 7 and 21, the first 15 days of the 40-day travel rush of the Lunar New Year, about 110 million train passengers were taken, an increase of 28% year-on-year, People’s Daily, the Communist Party official newspaper, reported.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, a total of 26.23 million trips were made by rail, highway, ships and planes, half the pre-pandemic level but up 50.8% from last year , reported state-run CCTV.

The mass movement of people during the holiday season could spread the pandemic and boost infections in some areas, but a second COVID wave is unlikely in the near term, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Saturday. on the Weibo social media platform.

The possibility of a major COVID resurgence in China in the next two or three months is slim as 80% of people have become infected, Wu said.

After China reopened its borders on January 8, some Chinese also booked trips abroad. Asia’s tourism hotspots are bracing for the return of Chinese tourists, who spent $255 billion a year globally before the pandemic.

“We hadn’t been out of China for three years because of the pandemic,” says 28-year-old tourist and entrepreneur Kiki Hu in Krabi on Thailand’s southwest coast. “Now that we can leave and come here on vacation, I feel so happy and emotional”.

Additional reporting by the Beijing newsroom; Written by Marius Zaharia Edited by Shri Navaratnam

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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